Monthly Archives: May 2013

Planning Your Route: Secret Bike Passages

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on May 30, 2013.

The best way to get around town on a bike is probably not the same way you’d go by car. A route that’s convenient by car may be very stressful on a bike. Fortunately, there are bike maps that show you which faster-traffic streets have bike lanes, show you which roads to avoid, and clearly mark the kid-friendly, off-road bike trails. Bike maps are often available on paper so you can take them along on your ride.

Another option is using the bike directions setting on Google Maps, which can give you point-to-point directions and offers Street View which lets you visually check out the route. But sometimes Google gives you bike routes that aren’t exactly what you’d choose. Like the time it recommended I take Central Expressway to get to my job near San Jose Airport. Not my idea of a pleasant ride to work, even though my friend Jack did it for years.

But both kinds of bike maps can be misleading. Some of the best routes are low-traffic, slower-speed neighborhood streets that don’t get marked on the map because they don’t have bike lanes and they’re not bike trails. The secret is to look for the quieter streets (often marked in white or gray on the map) and to learn the secret bike passages.

Secret passages are unexpected connections just for people on bikes and on foot. You won’t find them behind a bookcase or under a staircase, but they’re really common in neighborhoods built after 1950 where streets were designed to limit cut-through car traffic. Which is exactly where you need them the most. Here are some of our favorites:

Sneaking into Sunnyvale: Dana St to Sylvan Park
Getting from Downtown Mountain View to Sunnyvale is a lot calmer with this little connection that starts where Dana St ends at Moorpark. At the end of the crosswalk you’ll see three posts guarding a short path to Foxborough St and into the Sylvan Park neighborhood. Another secret passage at the end of East Dana leads you to Washington St in Sunnyvale.

Connecting Downtowns: Castro Street to Los Altos
This short bike-only path fills a gap on Marilyn Drive for a route that can take you from the southern end of Castro Street to downtown Los Altos. When Dick meets me on a Friday night at the Caltrain station for a dinner date in downtown Los Altos, the Marilyn Drive connector helps us get to the restaurant in time for our reservation, even when there’s a headwind.

Hugging El Camino on the South Side: Marich Way
Need to get somewhere on El Camino Real and want to avoid traffic? If you’re south of El Camino, look to Marich Way. A secret bike connector on Marich Way will let you ride from El Monte Ave to San Antonio Rd on the south side of El Camino. The trick to getting to that store or coffee shop on El Camino is knowing which cross street to turn on. Guess wrong and you could be walking your bike on the sidewalk a long way.

Crossing San Antonio Road: Monta Loma to South Palo Alto
Crossing San Antonio Road can be challenging since most traffic signals are on busier streets, but there’s a traffic signal at the old Mayfield Mall site just North of Central Expressway that lets you cross on quieter streets. It’s been recently improved on the Palo Alto side with a larger waiting spot, but heading out of town you’ll have to use an awkward crosswalk on the Mountain View side. Still, it’s a rare easy crossing that takes you into Palo Alto.

These four are just a start. In the resources section below there’s a link to a custom Google Map I created with many more. Just zoom into the area you’ll be traveling, click on a marker and you may just find the secret bike passage you need.

How do you plan your bike routes? Do you use any bike-only passages as part of your trips? How did you find them?

RESOURCES
Bike Fun’s Secret Passages Map: http://goo.gl/maps/nprhW
Mountain View Bike Map: http://www.ci.mtnview.ca.us/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=7206
Santa Clara County Bike Map: http://www.vta.org/schedules/VTA_Bike_Map.pdf

Martens to Yorkshire

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Categories: Bike Routes | Leave a comment

The ABCs of Getting Back in the Saddle

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on May 24, 2013.

Memorial Day is here which means that summer is well on its way. If you haven’t been on your bike in months, it’s time to pull that bike out of the garage or storage closet and get it back into action. But how do you know if it’s ready to roll? It’s as easy as your ABCs.

A = Air. The first, most obvious problem with bikes that haven’t been used in a while is flat tires. Bike tires can lose pressure quickly (especially high pressure skinny tires) but the only way to know if they’ve gone flat from a puncture or just gradually over time is by pumping the tires up, waiting and crossing your fingers. We recommend pumping up your tires and waiting overnight before going off on a ride since a slow leak might not show up right away. If the tires are still inflated and full of air the next day you’re probably good to go.

How much air should you put in? Like automobile tires, bike tires have minimum and maximum air pressures molded into their sidewalls. In general, the skinnier the tire, the higher the pressure. We also recommend a quick visual check of the tire. Even if the tires hold air, if they’re worn out or have slits in the tread, or are dry with cracked sidewalls, they’re likely to fail. Consider replacing them before they leave you stranded.

B = Brakes. The most important safety feature of your bike is its brakes. If you can’t stop quickly and predictable you can’t ride safely. You can check your brakes in three steps. First, lift your front wheel, spin it and squeeze the front brake (usually the left brake lever on your handlebar). Second, lift your rear wheel, spin it and squeeze your rear brake (right brake lever). If squeezing the brakes doesn’t stop the wheel or makes horrible sounds, take your bike to a nearby bike shop.

If your brakes pass the first two steps, take your bike out for a quick road test by riding around the block or around your apartment parking lot. If the bike doesn’t stop well or makes excessive noise you know where to go–your local bike shop. If the brakes aren’t stopping your bike, please walk or drive your bike there. Riding a bike with bad brakes is a surefire way to get hurt.

C = Chain. A bike’s chain is what gives it the power to GO! The quick way to test your chain is to lift the rear wheel and turn the pedals. It may be easier if you have a friend help with this part. If the pedals crank smoothly and the chain doesn’t skip around from gear to gear when you’re not touching the shifters, then take it out for a quick spin to test the front and rear shifting. If your bike is a single-speed or you’re “set it and forget it” when it comes to gears, then you can skip this.

If your chain is rusty or gunky to the point that your chain’s links stiffen up, you may need a good cleaning and re-lubrication to get you back on the road or trail. Stop in at your local bike shop and ask them to show you how to take care of your chain. Chains do stretch and wear out. Don’t be surprised if the shop says your chain needs to be replaced.

The ABCs are just enough to get your bike ready for summer riding. After you’ve been riding a while you may find your bike doesn’t shift easily from one gear to another, you may hear strange noises, or otherwise need a professional to check out what’s going on with your bike. But if your bike passes the ABC test, just go out and ride.

Is your bike ready to go for the summer? What’s the toughest part of keeping it in tip-top shape for you? Do you sometimes long for a new bike? If so, what would it be?

ABCs wide

Categories: Gear Talk | Leave a comment

Who’s Ready for Bike Fun?

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the online edition of the Mountain View Voice on May 22, 2013.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, Mountain View is a great city for riding bicycles. It’s flat so you don’t have to work hard climbing steep hills. It has mild temperatures: cool in the morning and evening and even at midday in the summer it’s rarely truly hot. And it doesn’t rain much, even in the winter, and when it does it’s rarely amounts to more than a drizzle.

We have beautiful creekside trails where you can relax and perhaps bird watch, neighborhood streets where you can wave to your neighbors out walking their dogs, and bike lanes along many of the streets with faster moving traffic. Together they can take you all over town to parks, schools, stores, restaurants, coffee shops and more in a city that’s only about 5 miles from end to end. That’s only 30 minutes for most people at a mellow cruising pace.

We are very fortunate indeed.

But it’s not always that easy to figure out how to get around town on a bike without a little help. Some streets are very stressful places to ride your bike and it’s not always obvious how to avoid them or find a better route to take to your destination. It’s not always obvious how to carry everything you need on your bike or how to park once you get there. So many details to think about!

That’s what “Bike Fun with Dick and Janet” is all about. Every week we’ll give you tricks of the trade to make your bike trips more enjoyable. We’ll help you find low stress bike routes for errands, give you fresh ideas for bike outings and show you how you can set your bike up for success. (Trust me, you can carry more on your bike than you can imagine.) We’ll even show you how to take your bikes on transit to increase your bike trip range.

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce us. My husband Dick and I live in Mountain View’s Rex Manor neighborhood, pretty much in the geographic center of town and a block away from Mountain View’s original “bike boulevard” on Montecito Avenue. We ride our bikes almost every day, for commuting to work, for doing errands, for visiting friends, for going out to dinner and for taking longer rides in the hills on the weekends. We’ve even taken overnight excursions to San Francisco and beyond.

It only seems natural that I met my husband Dick in a bike shop. Our first date 10 years ago was a bike date and our love of wheels turned into love ON wheels. We love everything about bikes: the wind in our faces, the slower pace that allows us to truly see and interact with places, and the way we feel better after even a short spin. But most of all–it’s FUN!

We look forward to having you come along with us for the ride.

Do you ride your bike around Mountain View? Where are your favorite places to go? Where do you wish you could go but don’t feel comfortable riding there? What does “Bike Fun” mean to you?

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